Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — George J. Renner Jr.

George J Renner JrHe built the largest brewery in Youngstown. He made failing businesses profitable and suffered several reverses from which he re-built each time. He built one of the most beautiful homes bordering Wick Park, now on the National Register of Historic Places. He was George J. Renner Jr.

A big man at six foot three inches with broad shoulders, he could lift a full barrel of beer onto a wagon by himself. A professional wrestler once persisted in challenging him to a match at a bar, the loser buying a round of drinks. Renner refused, was repeatedly badgered, until they finally came to grips, at which Renner threw the other man over his head and walked out.

Renner came from a brewing family. His father ran breweries in Cincinnati, Mansfield, and Akron. After learning the trade from his father, he ran breweries in Zanesville and Wooster, making losing operations profitable. Learning of an idle brewing plant on Pike Street on the south side of Youngstown, off Oak Hill, overlooking the Mahoning River (and what is now I-680), he purchased the plant for $4800 in 1885. The plant had an onsite water source, an artesian well. 

Renner’s first home was next to the plant at 209 Pike Street. He refurbished the plant and began operating it more or less as a solo operation at first, brewing, selling, delivering, and collecting payments. By January of 1889, he had a small core of employees including plant engineer, George Richter. A plant boiler exploded, killing Richter, and resulting in a fire destroying the plant, now valued at $75,000. Parts of the boiler were found on the other side of the Mahoning River.

Obtaining loans and an inadequate insurance payment, Renner built a state of the art brewery from the ground up in 1890, adding a bottling operation in 1895. The new plant had an 18,000 barrel annual capacity and this was further enlarged in 1913. He had stables for 52 horses for the delivery wagons. In 1907, he had sixty employees and the largest brewing operation in the city.

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George J. Renner Jr. Mansion, 277 Park Avenue. Photo by Nyttend, Public Domain via Wikipedia

In the same year, he began construction of his home on Park Avenue by Wick Park. It is a three-story, Georgian Revival brick mansion. The two story portico on the front is support by four pairs of columns with ionic capitals. It has a tiled roof. The interior walls between rooms are 18 inches thick with many of the rooms having pocket doors. The construction cost was projected at $40,000 but eventually soared to $75,000 by the time the home was complete.

The brewery explosion was not the last setback Renner faced. The beginning of Prohibition in 1919 led to shutting down the plant after an unprofitable attempt to sell a non-alcoholic beer (Reno). After 1921, they bottled soft drinks and stayed afloat due to real estate holdings. Most of the plant lay dormant. When Prohibition ended in 1933, Renner spent $250,000 renovating and expanding the plant, employing 200 men at the height of the Depression. The renovated plant had a capacity of 100,000 barrels annual production, later raised to 175,000. They produced a number of lines of beers and ales, serving Youngstown and neighboring counties. At this time, close to Renner’s death on December 1, 1935, the company’s stock was valued at $600,000, quite a significant increase from Renner’s initial investment of $4800 in 1885.

The family sold the home in 1939, at which time it was broken up into apartments. As for the brewery, Renner’s son Emil became chairman of the board for the remainder of the company’s history. His son Robert became president in 1948, at a time when national companies increasingly challenged its position in local markets. Efforts to modernize and compete kept them afloat for a time but the brewery shut down in November of 1962. An investment group purchased the buildings in 1963 but they remained vacant until a fire on the site in 1978, after which most of the buildings were razed.

The Renner House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. All this does is state that the home has historic and architectural value that is worth preserving. Currently, it is a rental property listed as having fifteen apartments. Hopefully it will remain as the one visible mark of Youngstown’s greatest brewers. And the next time you pour yourself a tall, cold one, raise a glass to George J. Renner, Jr., Youngstown’s greatest brewer.

Sources:

George J. Renner Jr. (1856-1935)“, Riverside Cemetery Journal.

Renner Brewing Company, Youngstown, Ohio” Ohio Breweriana.com

George J. Renner Jr. House” Wikipedia.

George J. Renner Jr. Mansion” All Things Youngstown

277 Park Avenue – Youngstown, Ohio” ApartmentFinder